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Climate Change Made Hurricane Sandy $8B More Expensive

A new scientific study published in Nature Communications reveals that human-caused climate change was responsible for $8 billion of the damage resulting from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

Although Sandy, a Category 3 storm, swept through nearly the entire East Coast of the United States and caused approximately $70 billion in damage, largely due to flooding, the study focused on a tri-state area which experienced the greatest damage from the hurricane: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. According to a 2013 U.S. Department of Commerce report, New York and New Jersey accounted for 96 percent of disaster relief funds related to Sandy.

The researchers used hydrodynamic modeling and spatial bias correction to simulate the flooding caused by Sandy and determine how much of the flooding was caused by anthropogenic sea level rise (ASLR) for the area. 

“We find that across the full range of our estimates, climate-mediated ASLR drove multi-billions of dollars of damage from Hurricane Sandy,” the researchers wrote. They estimated that the tri-state area “collectively reported more than $62.5 billion in repair, response, and restoration costs, with New York at $32.8 billion, New Jersey at 29.5 billion, and Connecticut at $360 million.  

According to the study’s findings, the damages in the area that were caused by man-made climate change were approximately $8.1 billion, or 13 percent of the damages, based on the total combined simulations. Of the models the researchers ran, the lowest estimate for attributable damages was $2.8 billion, while the highest estimate was $14 billion.   

This estimate also indicated that thanks to ASLR, floods caused by Sandy impacted an additional 71,000 people, or to measure it another way, 36,000 more homes.

“The implication is that…every storm, every flood has a climate change price tag on it,” ecologist and co-author of the study Benjamin Strauss saidGenerally speakingglobal sea levels were reported more than seven inches higher than in the 1900s, meaning flooding and storm surge will cause more damage than more than a century prior.

“More broadly, this case study underscores that human-caused sea level rise has contributed to damages associated with other past coastal floods and will increasingly aggravate damages in the future as sea levels continue to rise, driven by anthropogenic warming,” the researchers wrote.  

Although the study presented methods for quantifying the financial and other impacts of climate change (such as melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels)the authors also acknowledged the need for additional analysis into correlations between climate change and its contributions to various storm events and other natural disasters.